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Bad Dreams from Suppressed Abuse: Sister Angelica’s “Exorcism”

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The patient: SisterAngelica,” a quiet grey-haired woman in her late 60’s, clothed in a formal black habit with white headband and a large cross hanging over her heart, who sat peacefully in front of me in my consultation room.

Why she came to see me: The Abbess had sent Sister to see me when Sister related that she was woken each morning at around 4 AM being “raped by Satan.” The Abbess told Sister that she was sure that, “Dr. Rubman could exorcise the ‘unclean one’ and restore her peace.” (The Abbess had heard of my work in the community and my support of many of my patient’s strong faith commitments.)

How I evaluated her: I discussed Sister’s history with her extensively and discovered that Sister remembered that frequently when she was quite young, she and her sister would be invited to sing for their father when he was bathing. It became apparent that this elderly woman had been sexually abused as a child and that this seemingly innocent memory was her way of sublimating the experience.

How we addressed her problem: Often in much younger people, counselors encourage the victim to re-experience the traumatic event and “discharge” the associated emotion in order to free them from the horrific dreams. With someone of this age who had chosen a monastic life, this approach seemed entirely inappropriate. So I asked her if she ever played in the surf at the ocean as a child. Her face brightened as she recalled those pleasant times. I asked her if she was knocked down by the waves and she replied that this happened until she figured out that the wave would break around her and go past her if she stood sideways.

I helped her recall that Scripture teaches to remember one’s commitment to The Divine and to “get thee behind me Satan,” and that she, as well as anyone, could look at her dreams as evidence of grace in allowing her to deepen her faith and commitment to her practice.

I also prescribed a very high-potency homeopathic remedy, given in only one dose, that is one of the strongest available in this pharmacopeia and is specific for a deep challenge of this nature.

The patient’s progress: I received a call two weeks later from the Sister, who reported that the night after her visit and every night after, she’s had no bad dreams and felt very relieved. I wished her well and let her know that I was here for her if she needed me in the future. That was four years ago; she has yet to call again.

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